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Wheeler starts strong in return, but out in 4th

Mets righty unable to work deep in first start off DL
MLB.com

NEW YORK -- For his first start since returning from a brief disabled list stint with right biceps tendinitis, Zack Wheeler probably would have immediately signed up for the results he pitched to over the first three innings of the Mets' 7-6 rain-delayed victory over the Phillies on Saturday at Citi Field.

Despite a somewhat high pitch count, Wheeler had allowed just two baserunners in the first three frames. The fourth inning is where the trouble began, continuing the theme of early exits that occurred in his two starts before hitting the DL.

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NEW YORK -- For his first start since returning from a brief disabled list stint with right biceps tendinitis, Zack Wheeler probably would have immediately signed up for the results he pitched to over the first three innings of the Mets' 7-6 rain-delayed victory over the Phillies on Saturday at Citi Field.

Despite a somewhat high pitch count, Wheeler had allowed just two baserunners in the first three frames. The fourth inning is where the trouble began, continuing the theme of early exits that occurred in his two starts before hitting the DL.

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Wheeler recorded the first out of the fourth before T.J. Rivera couldn't cleanly field a slow roller at third. Wheeler never returned to form, even though he insisted after the game he prides himself on attacking the next hitter regardless of what happens behind him in the field.

"Physically felt fine," Wheeler said. "I struggled a little bit, of course, but I feel like I'm on the right track. I feel a little better mechanically and stuff like that."

Following the error, Wheeler walked the next two and then induced a potential double-play grounder from Ty Kelly with the bases loaded, but he couldn't corral the return throw while covering first. The ball rolled to the fence of the Mets' dugout and two runs scored, giving the Phillies a 2-1 lead. Wheeler did not break right away for the base, he said, and tried to find the bag with his foot and catch the ball at the same time, leading to the error.

Video: PHI@NYM: Phillies plate two on forceout, error

Wheeler surrendered a single to Cameron Rupp before getting the hook. While he did not allow an earned run, he walked two, hit one and threw just 47 of his 82 pitches for strikes. Manager Terry Collins revealed the team budgeted Wheeler for roughly 90 pitches since it was his first start in 11 days.

"We've got to get him through those [innings]," Collins said. "We've got to get him over that hump, where something like that [error] happens, we've got to get out of that inning right now."

Perhaps the most frustrating part for Wheeler and the Mets is the fact that it seemed like he had established himself as a consistent contributor in the beleaguered rotation. The results proved it as well, until recently. The two starts that preceded his time on the DL were disastrous, as he surrendered 15 runs and didn't pitch past the second inning (3 2/3 innings total). But before those outings, Wheeler owned a 3.45 ERA overall and a 2.76 ERA over his previous five starts.

"Obviously, due to the fact he hadn't pitched for a while, he might have been a tad fatigued," Collins said.

Now, Wheeler has endured three straight outings he would have liked to see last much longer, and his time on the DL evidently did not cure his recent inability to pitch deeper into games.

"I wasn't sharp before [the DL]," Wheeler said. "It's three bad starts in a row and I have to pick it up. Like I said, I think I'm on the right direction right now. It really didn't show today, but personally, I feel like I'm in the right direction. Hopefully next start I can turn it around."

Chris Bumcaca is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York.

New York Mets, Zack Wheeler